The Soldotna Regional Sports Complex was the hot topic at last night’s city council meeting. Mayor Pete Sprague and Council Member Regina Daniels sponsored an ordinance putting $3 million into the city’s general fund for work toward renovating the sports center.
Jeff Dolifka is on the advisory board that’s been putting together some of the preliminary plans. As an attorney, he sees the challenges some kids face when they don’t have strong parental support at home. He told the council tht adding an indoor turf field and track will give kids more options for recreation, especially in the winter, and save parents long drives to Anchorage.
“They impact me every single day in a variety of different ways … . We have a huge group of homeless kids that are couch surfing right now. I want to give these kids something to do. We can get those kids in there. We can do this, and it’s not just the kids that can afford to go to Anchorage every weekend, it’s so we can get these kids just 15 minutes up the road.”
A sticking point as this idea has bounced around is that while it’s a regional facility, only residents of Soldotna will be on the hook for the bill. Dolifka pointed out that a new venue for sporting events would attract people to the peninsula, as opposed to sending them up to big-city soccer matches and other sports.
“When you drop your kids off at soccer, instead of driving home to Kenai, what are you going to do? You’re going to go shop. You’re going to spend money in the city of Soldotna. That’s something that no one else has on the Kenai Peninsula, so there’s no competition as far as where are these events are going to be held. So it does make Soldotna a hub.”
Another point of contention is that putting lots of money into the sports center is more of a want than a need. Council Member Paul Whitney says it’s more of a long-term investment in quality of life.
“I don’t think there’s any city, borough, county anywhere in this country that’s making at least a break even on a parks and rec program. I think it’s something we need to provide to our community … . We are kind of the hub of the central peninsula. Everybody comes here to go shopping or to play sports, so I think this would be a facility that maybe at first wouldn’t get used as much, but I think once the draw is there and people know it’s available … it might be a boon to our own community here.”
The $3 million will be essentially seed money, a way to show that there’s local support as organizers go out to find grants and other funding for the project. The advisory board now has an obligation to present its progress to the council on a quarterly basis. If the council doesn’t like how things are going after two years, the $3 million will be taken off the table.